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Rights Group Sues Boeing Subsidiary Over CIA Terror Transfers

A private legal defense group is suing a U.S. aviation corporation, accusing it of helping the CIA secretly transport three terrorism suspects to overseas prisons, where they were allegedly tortured. Victoria Cavaliere reports from VOA's New York bureau.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit Wednesday in a federal court in California. The suit accuses Jeppesen Dataplan, a subsidiary of the giant Boeing Corporation, of knowingly providing the CIA with flight plans and travel logistics in order to shuttle terror suspects to foreign prisons for interrogation.

The practice, known as "extraordinary rendition," has been widely criticized by human rights groups for leaving terror suspects in the hands of countries that alledgedly torture them.

The CIA is not named in the suit.

The ACLU's lawsuit centers on what it claims is the rendering and mistreatment of three men. The first, Binyam Mohamed, is an Ethiopian citizen who was imprisoned in Morrocco in 2002 and is now held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Elkassim Britel, an Italian citizen, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and also sent to Morrocco. The third client, Ahmed Agiza, is an Egyptian citizen, allegedly picked-up in Sweden, and sent back to Egypt, where he was jailed and tortured.

Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, says Jeppesen knowingly and willingly participated in the renditions.

"American corporations should not be profiting from a CIA rendition program that is unlawful and contrary to core American values," said Anthony Romero. "Corporations that choose to participate in such activity can and should be held legally accountable."

Jeppesen provides flight plans and support services, such as crews, to pilots and airline companies.

A spokesman for Jeppesen told VOA the company has thousands of customers, and does not always know why their services have been contracted.

The ACLU says it was referred to the three defendants in the suit through their foreign attorneys. Ben Weisner, a lawyer with the ACLU,says all three are still incarcerated, and none have been charged.

"If the United States government had any actual evidence rather than innuendo that any of these men were involved in terrorism, they should have flown them to the United States and put them on trial, rather than send them to countries where they knew they would face torture," said Ben Weisner.

Washington has acknowledged the secret transfer of suspects to third countries but denies torturing them or handing them over to countries that do. The United States says it does not condone the use of torture.

Also Wednesday, the ACLU announced it is petitioning the Supreme Court to review the case of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who says he was kidnapped by the CIA in Macedonia in 2003, then flown to a secret jail in Afghanistan, where he was allegedly tortured by his U.S. captors. His lawyers say he was released when the CIA realized it had the wrong man.

Al-Masri sued the CIA, but the case was dismissed after the U.S. government invoked the "state secrets privilege," a defense that maintains a trial would jeopardize national security.